LUIS FIGO AS CATALYST:
Luis Figo after Eusebio is arguably the biggest Portuguese footballer who was also a part of the ‘Golden Generation’ that had won two U-20 World Championships for Portugal. He won many individual accolades within Portugal and also at the International level. Also he was the only member f the Golden Generation who was also a member of the Portugal team of 2006 which reached the semi-final stage. But apart from all these glory tales Figo is also known as someone who added fuel to the fire between Madrid and Barcelona.
Luis Figo who was bought by Barcelona exploiting the dispute between the Italian clubs of Parma and Juventus, had become a pride in Catalonian colors. In his short playing career in Catalonya Figo had become a people’s favorite and their most loved Icon. He was an adored cult hero and an ‘an icon of Barcelonismo’. Figo found himself easily woven into the colors of Barcelona and he achieved great recognition and success during this period. But thee Barcelona fans were devastated by the news of his transfer in 2000. More devastating was the fact that he had opted for the team that was Barca’s mortal enemy, Real Madrid. Figo moved to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee of that time, 56 million dollars. The frustration of the Catalonian club of losing Figo ignited into seething fire with the complete news.
Figo would make his first appearance in the El Clasico in the Camp Nou three months after his transfer on October 22, 2000. Figo was heartily boo-ed by the home supporters whenever he stepped up to take a corner. Over two years following the transfer, Figo witnessed the intense anger of the Catalonians as a sulking pig head was thrown upon him when he stepped to take a corner. This only suggested that Figo had committed an unforgivable crime towards the Blaugranes. This pi head is preserved even today in the Barcelona Museum and has been titled as ‘Pasion En Las gradas’ meaning ‘passion in the stands
Luis Figo has undoubtedly fired up the rivalry between the two teams and he has a different image towards different sets of people. Figo has taken the matter of player-club loyalty towards a serious level by performing a switch between to eternal rivals. To the Madrid fans he was a special integral transfer that helped them achieve much success in Spain as well as Europe. To the people in Portugal he is nothing less than a national hero. Yet to the fans of Barcelona, who have passionately termed Barcelona as ‘Mes Que En Club’ meaning ‘more than a club’ he is nothing more than a blatant traitor as he had committed a crime which could never be forgiven.
MODERN EL CLASICO HISTORY:
In the modern days, El Clasico has become the most heated rivalry in sports. A Spanish journalist once said, ‘If Spain is to lose its unity and end up getting divided, it will only and only be because of the game called El Clasico’. Real Madrid and Barcelona are two of the most decorated football clubs in the world. Madrid based on the philosophy of big spending to ensure having a star-packed team in every generation of football and Barcelona focusing more on its youth academy to search for rough diamonds and instilling a sense of oneness and family within the club.
The 21st century has been nothing less than a drama across these two rival clubs. The start of the century saw the likes of living legends like Zidane and Figo win the 9th European title for the Capital club. Later Madrid became home for the top stars of club football. It was similar to something of status symbol for every footballer. Madrid had gained a reputation of a five-star club and the ultimate promotion for any club footballer. After all, what’s better than having a star in a team? The answer for Madrid, simple, it’s having ‘stars’ in a team. That’s exactly what they have shown in the World. They have dominated Spain during the first half decade of the 21st century with their scintillating and glamorous football. They were even featured in the film Goal 2: living the dream as team which easily paves its way towards success with stars in abundance, the lead hero being on the bench for most of the time.
Reel-life apart, in real-life Madrid had quite a glamorous line-up with the likes of Ronaldo (Phenomeno), Figo, Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Raul Gonzalez and even David Beckham. Their dominance in Spain was somewhat curbed after the 2002 World cup which led Barcelona into signing a magician, Ronaldinho. The Brazilian samba-king inspired Barcelona to domestic success as well as the European one in 2006. He showed the world that the best way to play football is to enjoy it. He was a truly one man army as he played some exasperating football leaving the spectators in awe and also orchestrating a mysterious sense of teamwork by his presence. This was the time when Ronaldinho became the lone star who had outshone a multi stellar Madrid. This was evident with his dazzling performance in Bernabeu when he won applauds from the away supporters, which is often considered the most beautiful sight in football.
Ronaldo along with Figo was a player who had played for Barcelona and Madrid. But the fact that Ronaldo had returned to Spain to play for Madrid after a spell of 5 years with Inter Milan, spared him off the grudge of the Barca fans, unlike Figo who was a direct transfer from Barca to their rivals. After the 2006 world cup, English teams dominated Europe with three English teams in the Champions league semi-finals. Madrid had gone silent post the 2006 world cup, Zidane and Figo together hung up their boots both for club and country. Beckham left for the MLS soon. Madrid had only the likes of Nistelroy and Raul left in the squad and so their dominance in Spain was loosening its grip.
Meanwhile Barcelona was a better squad but they too were having internal dressing room ego-clashes. All was sorted the moment Guardiola took charge. He instantly sold out Deco and Ronaldinho as he believed that their superstar lifestyles were ruining the team spirit. The season 2008-2009 was the season when Barcelona rediscovered themselves, their philosophies and their morals and values. Guardiola professed the total football strategy which he had learnt from his mentor Johan Cryuff twenty years back and put it to good implementation to give football it’s potentially greatest team ever. Barcelona beautified the sport of football with their fascinating game and won every tournament they had participated in the calendar year 2009 having won a sextuple (Liga, Copa Del Rey, Champions League, UEFA super cup, Spanish Super Copa, Club World cup).
This marked a revolution in world football. The following year, Barcelona sold Eto’o to Inter Milan in exchange of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Meanwhile, Madrid in the 2009-2010 season restored their tradition by buying multiple stars at once in a single transfer period. They bought Kaka, Benzema and none other Cristiano Ronaldo for a record transfer fee of 80 million euro. But these stars could not deliver either in Spain or in Europe. Barcelona just fell short of retaining their European title to the team they sold Eto’o, Inter Milan. A celebration from the Inter manager Jose Mourinho after knocking out Barca sparked a hatred of Barca fans towards him. Inter went on to win the Champions League, it was Mourinho’s treble. Zlatan left Barcelona for AC Milan after a tense relationship with Guardiola.
After the 2010 world cup, Real unveiled their new manager, guess who, Jose Mourinho himself and this added much flavor to the El Clasico. The year saw Mourinho signing starlets from the world cup Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira. The next El Clasico wouldn’t just be a historic battle but a clash between two of the greatest footballers of the generation, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but also the battle of wits between the two greatest managers who had won trebles alternatively over the last two seasons, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. The first Clasico of the season was the Liga game at the Camp Nou where Madrid was trounced by 5 goals to nil. This match is significant because it saw the Spanish defender Sergio Ramos lose his cool and man handle his fellow Spanish teammates from the Catalan club with whom he had won the World Cup in South Africa months ago.
There was a heated tension throughout the match as the match referee broke the record of most cards shown in an El Clasico, 10 yellow and 1 red.Mourinho tried to restore Madrid’s pride in Europe by steering Madrid to the semi-finals in all of his three seasons at the Capital, but he never tasted the final having been denied by Madrid’s eternal rivals Barcelona, then Bayern Munchen and then Borussia Dortmund respectively across his three seasons. Guardiola left Barcelona in 2012 with the motive of taking a break from football. His four years at Barcelona were memorable as he showed the world how football is to be played and it was in these four years that Barcelona’s Lionel Messi became the greatest player by winning 4 Ballon D’ors in a row.
The influence which these two teams had on World football was showcased by the fact that in the World team of the year in 2011 featured all the players from the Spanish league out of which a combined 10 players belonged to these two clubs.
Barcelona’s dream team was losing its flair gradually after Guardiola’s departure. Madrid on the other started their dominance again in Spain and with the arrival of Ancelotti they won the much awaited Decima, their tenth European title in 2014. With the form they are currently in they are seemingly on the road to become the first team in history to defend their UEFA Champions League.
Last year the Spanish league became a three horse race with Atletico Madrid joining in. But this year it seems that the rivalry within Spain is immortally destined to be between these two great clubs who have seen hatred across different eras of their vast history. With newer stars joining these two teams in the form of Gareth Bale for Real Madrid and Neymar for Barcelona, we can expect this rivalry to go down as tighter one for the upcoming generation football.
Formally it is a football match, but El Clasico silently echoes today the cries and revolts for freedom of a Catalan community towards a Capitalist Madrid. It is a war between Communism and Dictatorship, the war elaborated by clashes of great footballers across every generation, a war that is taken more seriously than any cup glory, an endless war played on a 100-yard grass pitch, a war between 11 men representing the Catalan Flag against 11 men in a pure white Capitalist attire.